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False Memory Effect
False Memory Effect:
Misleading Information Can Create False Recollections
The argument of false memory effect is an ongoing debate in today’s society. Proponents
support their argument by presenting research that demonstrates the paradigm of how false
memory can be created. In order to get a clearer understanding of how events in a person’s life
may result in false memories, many researchers conduct experimental research in controlled
environments (Anastasi & Rhodes, 2000). Studies have shown that a memory is not a complete
representation of an event and that new information obtained after the incidence of an event may
actually alter the way the event is remembered, thus people’s recollections often become
distorted and misattributed to the original event (Higham, 1998; Loftus & Hoffman, 1989;
Loftus, 1997; Winkelspecht & Mowrer, 1999). In many false memory experiments, researchers
use misleading information as the independent variable, while depending on a study’s design
such as, an object, or a video, acts as the dependent variable. When results indicate that the
misleading information has a significant effect, it is often referred to as the misinformation effect
(Hingham, 1998).
Based on the stress model of Yerkes-Dodson law – suggests that at low and high levels of
arousal (inverted U-curve) the recall of memory is decreased in quality compared to when it is at
moderate levels when memory is supposedly optimal – research suggests that stress and anxiety
are features that are detrimental to the accuracy of memory of any person. (Erlander, 2000;
Hudson, 2000).
Since the misinformation effect has shown to provide support for many previous studies,
I predicted a similar outcome in my experiment, and based on additional literature review of
impacts of stress and anxiety, a correlation between the misinformation effect and stress/anxiety
False Memory Effect
was hypothesized. The experiment presented in this paper will provide an illustration of how
exposure to a stressed induced video clip followed by misleading information vs. a non-stressed
induced video clip followed by non-misleading information, will have an effect of developing
false memories.
Stimuli & Design
Two conditions of stressed and non-stressed induced video clips were shown to
participants in the experiment. The 1 minute and 30 seconds video clips consisted of fastmotioned scenes from Japanese cartoons, and they were either bloody and gory (stressed
condition) or calm and colorful (non-stressed condition). Video clips as opposed to pictures were
considered because less research of similar stimuli has been conducted and thoroughly
investigated. Questionnaires, one created on the computer using a computerized software
program, and the other created on the computer but printed out, were later asked to be filled out
by participants
The sample used in this experiment consisted of undergraduate students from a Cognition
and Memory class at Washington State University - Vancouver. A total sample pool of ten
students, both men and women, approximately 20-50 years of age, were subjected to the
experiment, and participants were randomly assigned to either the stressed condition or the nonstressed condition.
The experiment consisted of two parts. First, participants in each condition were asked to
view the video clip individually in a private room. Immediately after the video clip was over,
False Memory Effect
students were asked to fill out the computerized questionnaire, which had true or false statements
reflecting back on the video clip. Statements were different for each condition, and they required
a yes or no response (‘Y’ or ‘N’ on computer keyboard) from the participant.
After approximately an hour, participants were asked to complete the second part of the
experiment. This time students were asked to fill out another questionnaire, however this one
involved sentences were participants had to circle which word they thought correctly matched
the entire statement (see Appendix). Both groups were subjected to misleading statements; either
a noun or a verb was used to reflect back on the original statement in the first part of the
experiment. For example, if a statement from the first section of the experiment displayed, “the
shoe that fell on the floor was yellow,” which required a NO response, and then in the second
section the statement was “the bright shining shoe that fell on the floor was yellow or blue,”
which produced a misleading effect and may have contributed to the misinformation effect. Most
questions were novel in nature, however three statements in each condition were presented in a
misleading format.
As there was limited number of participants, only general statistics such as a frequency
distribution was performed. Major findings indicated that the participants in the stressful
condition were more likely to answer statements incorrectly than the non-stressful condition.
Furthermore, results from the stressful condition also displayed an indicator of the
misinformation effect, whereas the non-stressful condition only showed a slight tendency for the
False Memory Effect
The results of the experience indicated that a combination of misleading statements and
degree to which an event is perceived stressful, the less likely it is for a person to recollect
memory accurately, thus the presence of the misinformation effect.
Strengths of this experiment included a careful selection of similar video clips, and a
thorough literature review that which enabled the experiment to have a reliable and valid design.
Limitations of the investigation involved lack of participants, which may have influenced the
results significantly; the chance of participants to confer with other students may have
significantly affected the results; and the lack of control for exactly the same fast-motioned
scenes that were exhibited in the video clips. Future improvement and further support of
reliability and validity of this experiment include an increased number of participants, and the
importance of subjects not to discuss the experiment with other participants. Finally, the lack to
control for participants’ general demographics should be taken into consideration; especially the
control for age needs to be a matter.
There are many reasons why further research needs to be conducted, one of which
includes the issue of the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. Evidence support that the existence
of false memory effect may have serious implications on daily life circumstances (Wright, Self,
& Justice, 2000), thus the importance for further investigation to strengthen the link between
stress/anxiety and misleading information effect.
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